FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 12/7

On 12/7/1736 Benjamin Franklin “co-founded the Union Fire Company, also known as the “Bucket Brigade”. It was the first formally organized all-volunteer fire company in the colonies and was shaped after Boston’s Mutual Fire Societies. The difference between the fire societies of Boston and Franklin’s Union Fire Company was that the former protected its members only while the Union Fire Company protected the entire community, regardless of membership. The fire company remained active until approximately 1820. The present-day Philadelphia Fire Department can trace its lineage back to the Union Fire Company… During the Colonial era in Philadelphia, the city was mainly composed of wooden structures closely spaced together on narrow streets. The roofs and siding of many of the houses were of wood shingles that were prone to the rapid spread of fire. In a time before electric lighting, open flame torches and lanterns were used to illuminate the city streets, residences, and businesses. Homes and businesses were heated by burning wood and coal. Often when a fire broke out in the city, whole blocks of buildings were burned to the ground. Many citizens lived in fear of their homes and businesses being destroyed by uncontrolled fires.” “In September of 1718, Boston organized the “Boston Fire Society,” the nation’s first mutual aid organization. Members pledged to fight fires at each other’s homes, rescue their property, and guard against looting.”

On 12/7/1946 the Winecoff Hotel fire killed 119 in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The 15-story building, constructed in 1913, was the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history, located at 176 Peachtree Street NW. “Guests at the hotel that night included teenagers attending a Tri-Y Youth Conference, Christmas shoppers, and people in town to see Song of the South.” The building was believed to be “fireproof” by designers and the public. The 62’-9” X 70’ (4,386 sq. ft. per floor) building was built under an exception in the 1911 building code that permitted a single 3’-6” stair as the only means of egress from the upper floors. Each floor had 15 (530 sq. ft.) guest rooms. “Interior partitions, including the walls between corridors and guest rooms were hollow clay tile covered with plaster. Room doors were 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) wood, with movable transom panels above each door for ventilation between the rooms and the corridors, closed by a wood panel of fewer than .5 inches (1.3 cm) in thickness. The corridor walls were finished with painted burlap fabric extending up to wainscot height. Guest rooms were finished with as many as seven layers of wallpaper. The hotel had a central fire alarm system, manually operated from the front desk and a standpipe with hose racks on each floor. There was no automatic sprinkler system.” The fire was believed to have started in the third-floor corridor. “Fire spread was initially hampered by the stair arrangement. While the stairs were not closed off by doors, the configuration placed ascending and descending runs around the corner from each other, keeping fire and hot gas from quickly ascending the stairs. The fire did not spread through the enclosed elevator shafts, nor the laundry or mail chutes. Open transoms between the rooms and the corridors admitted fresh air for combustion, eventually creating a flue-like effect with the fire climbing to all but the two top floors. Once established in the corridors, the fire fed on the burlap wallcoverings and ignited room doors and transoms. Doors and transoms were burned through on all but the fourteenth and fifteenth floors. Guests opened windows seeking fresh air and rescue, further enabling the draft of fresh air to the fire. The fire investigation revealed that an open transom was closely associated with the ignition of a given guest room and its contents.” “The Winecoff Hotel fire; which followed the June 5, 1946, La Salle Hotel fire in Chicago (61 fatalities), and the June 19, 1946, Canfield Hotel fire in Dubuque, Iowa (19 fatalities); spurred significant changes in North American building and fire codes, most significantly requiring multiple protected means of egress and self-closing fire-resistive doors for guest rooms in hotels.” “A national conference on fire prevention was convened in 1947 at the direction of U.S. President Harry S. Truman in response to the La Salle and Winecoff fires. Both fires highlighted the problems associated with unprotected stair openings, which provided paths for the spread of smoke (in the case of the La Salle Hotel) and fire (at the Winecoff), simultaneously preventing the use of the stairs for escape. The National Fire Protection Association’s Building Exits Code of 1927 had already set forth principles requiring the use of multiple, protected means of egress.” “Fireproof construction was a term primarily originating with the insurance industry, which was chiefly concerned with property loss claims. A “fireproof building” could withstand a severe fire and be returned to service once its interior finishes were replaced, without total loss due to collapse or damage to adjoining structures. The Building Exits Code (NFPA 101) was significantly revised in 1948 to address issues of finish combustibility, detection and warning, and provisions related to the number of people in the building. To highlight its principal emphasis, the Building Exits Code was retitled the Code for Safety to Life from Fire in 1966.” The building has been reoccupied several times since the fire and recently reopened as the Ellis Hotel on October 1, 2007.

On 12/7/1906 in Ithaca, New York at Cornell University, the Fiske Chapter House fire trapped and killed four students, and three firefighters were crushed to death by a falling wall. The building was built by Jennie McGraw Fiske and was described as “a beautiful structure of sandstone, handsomely decorated and finished within with marble and mahogany,” the walls, were rubble masonry construction collapsed under the flames and high wind, leaving only a heap of ruins. The fire started at 8:30 a.m. in the basement kitchen, and “gained considerable headway before the student occupants were awakened.” The fire extended into the basement hall and stairway and filled the halls throughout the house with dense smoke. Twenty-seven students occupied rooms on the upper floors.

On 12/7/1931 a Berkeley, California firefighter died from injuries he received “on December 4, 1931, when a gas main on Cedar Street had detonated; killing three people and leaving many others with crippling injuries and disfiguring burns. The disaster began as a basement gas leak in the Saunders house. When two teenage boys attempted to fix the leak themselves, a fire erupted. Moments after firefighters arrived to fight the flames, Berkeley was rocked by the enormous explosion that killed a firefighter and two others. The explosion and fire had ordinary citizens from all over north Berkeley pressed into service as ambulance drivers for the 70 people who were injured by the blast. Neighbors who had gathered near the Saunders house to watch the fire were mown down by the flaming timber, chunks of metal, and shards of glass that were catapulted into the surrounding crowd by the force of the blast. Those who escaped immediate injury ran in to rescue those who were buried or trapped in the rubble. Miraculously, all members of the Saunders family survived the fire, although their home was reduced to splinters and ash.”

On 12/7/1940 a Fort Lauderdale, Florida firefighter was killed when he stepped in a puddle contacted by an energized high-voltage wire. He was killed instantly, and another firefighter was severely injured by the electrical current as well.

On 12/7/1970 a Manhattan, New York (FDNY) firefighter was killed when he fell ten floors down an elevator shaft while searching for trapped occupants at a two-alarm fire that was on the second and third floor of the 11-story building.

On 12/7/1972 a Brooklyn, New York (FDNY) firefighter “died as a result of injuries sustained while operating at a three-alarm fire.”

On 12/7/1974 a Cleveland, Ohio firefighter died while searching for a trapped elderly occupant on the second floor of a five-story hotel, during a five-alarm fire, He died of asphyxiation when the air to his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) ran out. “He was found with an unconscious civilian in his arms. He had already rescued four people from the burning senior citizens building and had gone back in for more.”

On 2/7/2002 a Carnegie, Pennsylvania firefighter suffered an apparent fatal heart attack while operating at the scene of an eight-alarm structure fire in a southwest suburb of Pittsburgh. He was pulling equipment out of a fire truck when he collapsed. Fire officials said he was taken to Saint Clair Hospital by Scott Township EMS where he was pronounced dead.”

On 12/7/2017 a Bowie, Texas firefighter “collapsed in the front yard of a residential structure fire while working a hose line with other members of his fire department. Emergency medical personnel were on the scene and provided immediate assistance. He was transported to the hospital where he died several days later.”

On 12/7/2019 a Frisco, Colorado firefighter “died from the injuries he sustained after falling off the rooftop of a five-story condominium in Copper Mountain where he was battling a fire. The firefighter had climbed to the roof in search of access to the fire reported just before 2:00 a.m. at the Bridge End Condominiums at 860 Copper Road.

On 12/7/2014 a fire in East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey left five dead including a 6-week-old starting around 6:00 a.m. A woman was rescued from the third floor and suffered minor smoke inhalation.

On 12/7/2009 a high-pressure vessel rupture at NDK Crystal killed a truck driver at a nearby gas station on the Illinois Tollway in Belvidere, Illinois. The result of corrosion in the 8” thick steel walls of a pressure vessel, that went uninspected for years at a synthetic quartz manufacturing facility. Built in 2002, the facility, located in a light industrial area, houses eight 50-foot-tall vertical pressure vessels (autoclaves).

On 12/7/1953 a five-alarm fire destroyed the Capitol Lumber Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On 12/7/1941 at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a swarm of 360 Japanese dive bombers attacked the United States. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded; much of the naval fleet at Pearl Harbor was rendered useless, five battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 US aircraft were destroyed. Ninety-six U.S. Navy ships were in the yard at Pearl Harbor that morning, 18 were damaged or destroyed, but 11 were back in service within a year. The attack started at 7:55 a.m. and ended at 9:45 a.m. “As the Japanese surprise attack against Pearl Harbor was taking place, Engines 1, 4, and 6 of the Honolulu Fire Department were sent to help fight the fires at Hickham Air Force Base. During their operations there, two Captains and a Firefighter were killed, and six Firefighters were wounded. They were all awarded Purple Hearts and were the only civilian Firefighters to ever receive this award.”